Ali Ettefagh at PostGlobal

Ali Ettefagh

Tehran, Iran

Dr. Ali Ettefagh serves as a director of Highmore Global Corporation, an investment company in emerging markets of Eastern Europe, CIS, and the Middle East. He is the co-author of several books on trade conflict, resolution of international trade disputes, conflicts in letters of credit, trade-related banking transactions, sovereign debt, arbitration and dispute resolutions and publications specific to the oil and gas, communication, aviation and finance sectors. Dr. Ettefagh is a member of the executive committee and the board of directors of The Development Foundation, an advisor to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and an advisor to a number of European companies. Dr. Ettefagh speaks Persian (Farsi), English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and Turkish. Close.

Ali Ettefagh

Tehran, Iran

Dr. Ali Ettefagh serves as a director of Highmore Global Corporation, an investment company in emerging markets of Eastern Europe, CIS, and the Middle East. more »

Main Page | Ali Ettefagh Archives | PostGlobal Archives

June 24, 2009 10:27 AM

Democracy As Usual in Iran

The Current Discussion: Are we witnessing a pro-regime coup in Iran? What should the world do in response? How will the election aftermath affect Iran's projection of power into the Middle East?

This observer in Tehran can inform you that the (English-language) media frenzy and its sensationalism has breached the limits of reality and has hijacked the essence of debate in Iran. It is used as a diversion to eclipse a rejuvenation of a democratic process. The hyped protests, all within a square mile in west of Tehran, are simply a storm in a teacup and all of it must be framed in perspective. A civil war, a revolution or regime change, it is not.

Let us first remember that Iran is a country of about 72 million people, a third of whom are under 25 years old. A turnout of some 50,000 angry mobs (or even one million people, something that has not happened) is not exemplary of the rest. The other 71+ million people also have rights, lives and a desire for quiet pursuit of happiness and peace. Isn’t democracy about the will and rule of the majority, as well as the rule of law and civil order? Or should it be narrowly interpreted (by foreign media) as the right of a select tech-savvy few with computers, email and foreign language skills to project a distorted scuffle and civil disorder? Are elections not about discipline and order, after all? Or should the rules be overturned at random by crying foul and burning down banks and shops, simply because losers dislike the results of the very same system in which they signed up and ran campaigns?

Secondly, the blatant sudden turn of events after the election has not been properly explained to most Iranian youngsters and foreigners with a cursory knowledge of Iranian affairs. In fact, it has nothing to do with the election itself. The violence of June 20th marked the 28th anniversary and a rerun of a major street battle in Tehran between the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MKO-MEK) and their rivals during the early days of the Revolution. The rivals won 28 years ago and the MKO-MEK (a Stalinist, violent group that has no mind for the democratic process or even internal elections) was forced into exile. Many of their members were arrested and jailed when Mr. Mousavi was prime minister.

The MKO-MEK can be best described as the Persian speaking wing of the degenerated Iraqi Baath Party and an earlier species of Al Qaeda back in early 1970s-- a contemporary of the Red Brigades and the Baadermeinhof terror organizations in Europe. For decades, it has been designated as a terrorist group by most countries. They murdered American military advisers in Iran prior to the 1979 Revolution. MKO was on Saddam’s payroll to kill Iraqi Shiites, in exchange for having a base in Iraq. The source of their budgets remains murky, but MKO maintains an underground system in most European and North American cities, with lobby networks and a few chameleon fronts and disguised names that mask the organization.

MKO’s Camp Ashraf base was under protection of American forces and, despite the terrorist designation, they did “business” with Mr. Rumsfeld’s secret Task Force 20 for a few terror jabs at Iran in a hostile, ill-conceived regime change dream concocted by Mr. Cheney & Co. After the pullback of American forces in Iraq, the Iranian and Iraqi government have negotiated to close Camp Ashraf north of Iraq and extradite the key figures, the final round of which has been postponed until after elections in Iran. Hence the tsunami of one-way, ill-informed pressure on mostly English-speaking media by the MKO-MEK lobbies machine, an attempt to derail recent events beyond reality and divert attention away from formation of democracy. In other words, modern politics is snuffed out by a wave of violence, using uninformed young protesters as a shield—many of whom were not even born 28 years ago and are clueless about it all.

Otherwise, why would a legitimate Iranian “protester” hold up a sign in English, a foreign language, and pose for cameras if the idea is to protest against the Iranian state in Persian?

Recent developments in Iran are two distinct different matters, albeit foreign media have stitched it all up into one big bubble of insane hype. Somehow, all have forgotten about the purpose of an election. Simply put, the foreign mass media has been duped by a terrorist organization with modern (terror?) techniques of vilification in an abusive manipulation. Polluted prejudice and a lazy default on absurd vocabulary and zingers such as “regime change”, talk of “rogue behavior” or relapse to the perception of the 1953 coup has hijacked reality.

It is time for the world to realize that the Iranian political system is maturing. It is futile and silly for foreigners to insist upon their perceived views of Iran, even if media outlets turn to full time bullhorns of hostile policies of their governments. In the real world, in a territory about the size of Western Europe, Iran conducted a peaceful and historical election without peer in the region and Iranians have embarked on a new course of democracy, not a violent revolution or a coup or a crackdown plan to serve divide-and-dominate games of hostile foreign governments.

It is sad to see civil disorder in any place. But it must be framed in perspective and it is nothing short of a travesty to see the essence of a democratic process is summarily trampled in favor of sensationalist views of the relative few troublemakers with a questionable past and foul intentions.

Democracy is a process, not a project. It must be encouraged with cool heads and it must even-handedly left to the indigenous people to find their own way over time. Within living memory, meddling by foreigners in Iranian politics bluntly delayed and damaged the century-old desire of Iranians for a democratic system.

Iranians have not forgotten that and chances are that an absolute majority of Iranians are not going to let such meddling happen again.

June 16, 2009 8:26 AM

Foreign Media Is to Blame

The Current Discussion: Are we witnessing a pro-regime coup in Iran? What should the world do in response? How will the election aftermath affect Iran's projection of power into the Middle East?

The truth is that Iran is exemplary in the region when it comes to timely, scheduled elections, maintaining the rule of its constitution (such as term limits) and orderly transfer of power. It has political discipline without peer in the region, despite absurd foreign hallucinations for “regime change”, petty vilification campaigns by lobbyists and a cheap psychological Cold war officially funded by at least one foreign nation. This is not a replay of the 1953 coup or the 1979 Revolution, and the elusive recycling of a few morally compromised politicians plucked from heaps of yesteryears is silly and futile.

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June 8, 2009 12:25 PM

More Deeds, Please, and Fewer Words

The Current Discussion: What did you think of Obama's speech in Cairo? What kind of change will, or won't, it bring?

The principle and offer of a new beginning by the American president is much welcomed, even if it is to repair damage and in apology for the Bush Era. However, one cannot help but recall an old Persian proverb that “two hundred speeches won’t sum up to half a deed”. Mr. Obama is a good orator. He communicates clearly as a master politician who wants to keep everyone happy. But it is time to show by tangible deeds and firm steps, and not be summarily dismissed as yet another speech of a novice president and his “I have a dream” speech of the Martin Luther King legacy.

During these first months, and as seen with America’s posture towards Cuba, his words have indicated little more than a mere rolling back of stated foreign policy goals to the Clinton era. A quick recall of Bill Clinton’s speeches delivered in the Muslim world in the1990s will leave the listener bemused that many passages were simply transliterated (with quotes from the Quran, the Bible and Torah.) The distinction is simply the delivery of rehashed words from a man presiding over a maxed-out bust on political, and financial, credit and short of return on political capital invested in places like Iraq (Clinton, for his part, rendered a post-Cold War tune in the tone of upbeat country music by a Sunday preacher).

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June 4, 2009 11:31 AM

U.S. Should Brace For Further Fall

The world’s concern, and China’s immediate focus, is about America’s financial discipline. Its effects will sketch America’s credibility and its economic health in the near and long-term. For China, it is a job of deciphering it all. China is especially worried about the value and potential devaluation of its vast holdings of American debt, which adds up to about 50% of Chinese GDP, as America is its largest export market. Is America going to stop printing dollars, or will she flood the markets with cash (with so-called Quantitative Easing methods) and thus devalue the dollar and diminish the hard, reserve currency?

Many are wondering if it is all a repeat performance of the British economy circa 1960s and 1970s-- when the Pound Sterling lost its sterling, politely became the British Pound and faded away as a reserve currency—after rounds of mass nationalizations (British Leyland Motors, British Airways, banks, IMF loans and the rest). The effect was the diminished role of Britain as a world power in an economic overheating, mindless asset inflation, high levels of debt and currency devaluation.

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May 22, 2009 11:52 AM

Reinvention Necessary

The Current Discussion: American newspapers are in dire financial straits. How are newspapers faring where you are? Are you concerned about the future of journalism in America or in your own country? What does that future look like?

It is very ironic that newspapers have always been on the lookout for change, new ideas and the latest technologies and change but they have tried to keep a very old business model alive with very old-fashioned ideas and advertising. Moreover, the destructive competition has faded the contrast that distinguished one from another and technological advances has allowed the distribution of, say, a New York newspaper in Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas (and Tehran, Beijing, Moscow and Berlin via the Internet which embeds video clips too.)

Advertising that kept the old-fashioned business up and running, and keep customers happy, at least for the older generation and a comforting relapse to read material on physical paper while glancing at advertising. Newspapers (and magazines) have a “push format” design and provide a selection of information, made by editors along with display advertising. But times and behaviours have changed: we are all increasingly pulling information that we require (if only to avoid the mass “infotainment” carpet bombing). We are increasingly seeking specific information by, say, searching on the Internet about shoes, cars or Darfur, or visit our favourite websites or program the machine to search news about that topic and send it to us (or change the TV channel when the stories of O.J. Simpson or Brittany Spears is pushed as news!). Newspapers are in a business plan dilemma as they have straddled both the digital and physical formats. They now have a global reach (and deliver this article from Tehran, for example) but do not have local roots abroad to derive revenue from advertising in the local language. But can they afford to kick the can down the road? It is decision time to rethink the business model.

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May 12, 2009 4:54 PM

Israel Can't Veto U.S.-Iran Talks

The Current Discussion: Are Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama on a collision course over Iran and the Palestinian problem? What would be the consequences of a breach between the United States and Israel?

After the de facto defeat in Iraq, America seems to have reached an awakening long overdue: America’s national interests are fundamentally different from Israel's. The Zionist regime has confused America’s support (initially a humanitarian assistance program) with a silly perception of a right to occupy Washington or somehow game and dictate policy to the largest economy in the world. Alas, the game is up. These childish tactics are unsustainable and incompatible with national interests of America—despite Israeli hype, lobbies and calculated ill will of mislabeling of other religions as a political ideology.

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April 24, 2009 1:37 PM

'Genocide' Issue Merely a Frame

The Current Discussion: Today is "Genocide Remembrance Day "in the Armenian community, a particularly strained time of year for Turkey and Armenia. What's a realistic first step forward toward reconciliation for each of these countries?

Bad blood has always been part of human history, in folk stories or epic tales with two sides to an event repeated in, say, ancient Greece and their Trojan Wars. However, Greek society eventually graduated towards philosophy and rationalism to search for roots and causes of tales, myths, reality and behavior. About 12-13 years ago, the Turkish Republic emulated this historical graduation towards a search for rationalism and a rethink of its relations with Greece, albeit out of necessity to appease Greece during its (now aimless) EU candidacy talks. Those talks closed the book on differences and abrasion during the days of the Ottoman rulers. And it might now be time for Turkey to duplicate that realization for Armenia, and work towards yet another duplication of Entente cordiale and a change of heart about events that happened prior to the birth of the Turkish Republic.

Concurrently, Armenia must fast-forward to the 21st century, where all Armenians must understand that the history of the region is dotted with violence and atrocities: the invasion of Persia by Turkic or Arabs, Crimean Wars, The Russian Civil Wars, and two World Wars. All conflicts eventually end, and Europeans have managed to set aside the seas of blood between them and converge their common values into a framework of co-existence. History proves that insisting upon a certain version of tales told eventually fades away.

To this regional observer, however, the genocide issue seems to be a mere frame and a probable starter for Armenian émigrés from Anatolia to revisit their more contemporary sufferings in living memory and the losses that they experienced during the Turkish civil war in 1960s and 1970s. This is likely to be the hidden agenda of an eventual a la Turca mock-up of an Entente cordiale.

And what can Mr. Obama, the hyper-advertised Zeus but really a beleaguered Messiah, do about an age-old conflict in far and away places as part of his charm offensive in Islamic lands? Precious little in all probabilities, for the true and fundamental reason that such steps do not yield votes in Kansas for an American politician. Thus it might be best left to the locals to let them solve their problems and let Europeans nudge the sides towards a discussion table and a forum to chew the fat.

As the world has observed in Palestine and the Arab-Zionist conflict, the Pakistani Picnic, the Darfur case, the Bosnia stalemate, the Rwandan carnage or the Cambodian cull, the Washington spin on the issue tends to trump facts as the hype rises to headlines and skewed interpretations via lobbies and spin meisters transform it all to a Friday night high school football skirmish, away from reality and truth. Hence, the American president might be well advised to skirt Herculean motions and shallow multi-tasking endeavors, especially where it deals with history far from the attention span of the electorate.

April 15, 2009 11:12 AM

Sanctions Never Work

The Current Discussion: The U.S. will lift travel restrictions on Cuba, but leave the larger trade embargo in place. Is that a smart move? Does it go far enough? Too far?

If five phrases could summarize shallow thoughts and frame failed, self-defeating politics of the last fifty years, the term economic sanctions will be one of them— along with the wisdom of projecting raw military power, using nuclear weapons, declaring the end of history, and leaving financial markets to self-regulation. Simply put, economic sanctions are self-defeating in the Global Age. It has never worked when visibly practiced (against Cuba, USSR, Serbia or Iran), or when fudged and fabricated of threats and negative, hyper-subjective postures (China and India until 1990s, pro-socialist France and Italy in 1970s, or Iran and Zimbabwe these days). There is no record of capitulation by a sovereign state since the second World War just because America decided to ban its own people from doing business or have contact with that country.

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April 3, 2009 4:56 PM

Five Out of Ten, Plus One Extra Credit Point, For Obama's Debut

The Current Discussion: Rate Obama's first performance on the international stage on a scale of 1-10, and tell us why you think so.

Mr. Obama ought to be assigned a grade of six out of ten for his smiling performance at the G-20 meeting in London. He proved he could keep his word and be a good listener. He appears to have taken up the challenge of being humble mechanic and accident supervisor after a massive road pileup with many (unsold) cars, trucks, unemployed bodies and goods are either bound for the scrap heap, intellectually challenged schemes, unemployment or trauma about complex insurance policies (the AIG and government guaranty varieties) or more sacrifices. It was in such atmosphere that Mr. Obama and 19 other leaders gathered to formulate an action plan, come up with at least 21 different opinions and ideas and a heap of other suggestions about the equivalent of installing seatbelts, airbags, anti-lock brakes and traffic signs on such road. Alas, they all gingerly avoided the other massive train wreck, the environment. Mother nature does not offer bailouts.

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March 18, 2009 11:55 AM

The End of the Experimental Nation-State Era

The Current Discussion: With President Zardari forced to reverse his bans on political opponents, is Pakistan on the brink or is this a positive sign? What, if anything, can the West do to help maintain stability and democracy?

The true test of democracy is the action of a government responding positively to the will of the people. Alas, there are heavy and visible liens on Pakistan’s democratic credentials in a sub-prime political mess: rough tribal relations, the heavy fist of armed forces that moonlight as business enterprises, a shadow “deep state” of intelligence services that deem themselves above the law but tangle with inexplicable support for shadowy figures, drug lords, and extremism of the al-Qaeda and Taliban variety. This kind of nuclear sub-prime case is prime for a meltdown-- outside NPT and IAEA supervision. It can easily turn to a scary monster, as it has many embedded sympathizers. Planners and observers from 5 and 10 time zones away in London and Washington think they have implemented a de facto atomic disarmament in Pakistan by compelling the army to distribute various components of Pakistan’s atomic bomb amongst diverse tribal and regional command groups. But it is time to rethink this simplified summary. The seasonal itch in Pakistan has led to hosting al-Qaeda operatives, generating inexplicable elements to bomb Indian hotels and railway, or acting as a conduit for sale of illegal drugs valued higher than Iraq’s oil exports.

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PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.